John Howard | McCoy v. Caltrans 2016 Verdict $22,618,041.00

VERDICT: $22,618,041

CASE: Jared McCoy v. California Department of Transportation, Alcorn Fence Co., Harris & Associates Inc. and Magnum Pacific Corp., No. 56-2014-00461883-CU-PO-VTA

COURT: Superior Court of Ventura County, Ventura

JUDGE: Vincent O’Neill

PLAINTIFF ATTORNEY(S): John H. Howard, Lowthorp, Richards, McMillan, Miller & Templeman, Oxnard, CA Brett C. Templeman, Lowthorp, Richards, McMillan, Miller & Templeman, Oxnard, CA

VERDICT: $22,618,041

On July 26, 2014, plaintiff Jared McCoy, 23, a truck driver and mechanical assistant, was riding a Harley Davidson sport motorcycle on northbound U.S. Route 101, also known as East Thompson Boulevard, approximately one-half mile south of South Seaward Avenue, in Ventura, when his motorcycle became unresponsive. Unable to control the direction of the motorcycle, McCoy applied the brakes and slowed his speed from approximately 65 or 70 mph to 48 mph. However, he approached a 90-degree curve in the highway. As a result, McCoy’s motorbike continued in a straight direction, toward the highway’s center median, which was partly made of concrete and partly made of metal. (The materials that made up the guardrail were connected by a metal flangelterminal connector.) In the process of slowing the motorbike, McCoy’s left leg dangled off the side, causing it to drag along a metal strip that protruded from the center divider. McCoy ultimately required an above-the-knee amputation of his left leg. McCoy sued the entities that maintained and owned the highway, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the state of California, acting by and through the Department of Transportation. He alleged that the center median was dangerous and that motorists could not have reasonably anticipated the hazard. McCoy further alleged that the state’s transportation department had actual and constructive notice of the hazard and that it failed to remove the unsafe condition. McCoy also sued three subcontractors that were retained to install the concrete barrier median in 2002, Alcorn Fence Co., Harris & Associates Inc. and Magnum Pacific Corp. However, each of the subcontractors were let out of the lawsuit on summary judgement. Thus, the matter proceeded to trial against Caltrans only. Plaintiff’s counsel contended that the accident stemmed from the state’s failure to mitigate a hazard that was created when the material used to create the center median structure changed from concrete to metal. Specifically, they claimed that the accident site was marked by where the concrete portion of the barrier terminated and the metal guardrail section of the divider began. McCoy’s counsel contended that a metal strip, which was intended to create a smooth connection between the concrete and metal barriers, protruded four inches into the northbound side of the highway. Thus, counsel argued that the original installation of the barrier was not in compliance with the approved highway design and that Caltrans failed to properly supervise the installation of the median. Plaintiff’s counsel that Caltrans and its agents performed, or were required to perform, weekly inspections of the highway’s barriers and that they regularly visited the accident site during the two years preceding the incident. However, counsel argued that the rail had existed in the jagged condition for at least two years prior to the accident, that there were agents of Caltrans working at or near the incident site during the five-month period before McCoy was injured, and that Caltrans fixed other hazards on the road, but did not mitigate the protruding metal condition, despite actual knowledge of the hazard. The plaintiff’s traffic engineering and highway maintenance expert testified that the tip of the guardrail was not flush with the rest of the barrier and that Caltrans’ failure to secure the tip of the guardrail with three bolts resulted in damage to the metal rail, causing the jagged metal tip to protrude out like a blade facing oncoming traffic. At trial, a Caltrans employee who was assigned to perform work at the incident site testified that he had been at the site five months before the accident, at which time he did sec the condition. Defense counsel for the state argued that the defect on the median was minor and that it did not constitute an unreasonably unsafe condition or driving hazard. Caltrans contended that while the 2001 design plans may have called for the installation of three bolts, the subcontractors, as agents of the transportation department, could have consciously decided not to use the bolts, which would have justified the state’s inaction to install them. Defense counsel also argued that the accident was McCoy’s fault, in that McCoy positioned himself inside of the highway’s shoulder through his own negligent error and possible failure to properly lean into the turn. The defense’s accident reconstruction expert opined that McCoy’s motorcycle was working properly at the time of the accident, and denied that the front tire of the motorbike was deflated. He also testified that the tire markings left on the pavement after the incident did not reveal any evidence of an underinflated tire. The expert also performed an analysis of the incident and found that McCoy had been operating his motorcycle within the speed limit and had approached the guardrail at an approximate 90 degree angle. The defense’s highway maintenance expert testified that Caltrans met the required safety and maintenance standards. On cross-examination, McCoy conceded that whether or not one of the motorbike’s tires was underinflated, he was responsible for properly driving the motorcycle and for checking the tires condition before operating the motorbike. He also admitted that it was his fault that his bicycle left the highway’s left lane and entered the shoulder.

INJURIES/DAMAGES amputation, leg (helow the knee); debridement; post-traumatic stress disorder. McCoy sustained an injury of his left leg, requiring an above-the-knee amputation and two revision surgeries. He also claimed he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. After the accident, McCoy was taken by ambulance to the emergency room at a nearby Kaiser Permanente treatment center, in Ventura. He was admitted to the hospital and had a portion of his left knee and a portion of his left leg’s femur bone removed. Several days later, he underwent a revision surgery and had more of his left leg removed. He also underwent wound debridement after each surgery, and received physical therapy so that he could learn to ambulate. In June 2015 and March 2016, McCoy underwent revision surgeries at the site where his leg had been amputated. Each surgery removed more flesh and bone at or above his left knee. Following the most recent revision surgery, McCoy developed a neuroma in his left, lower extremity, and diagnostic testing revealed a large osteophyte above the left knee. McCoy claimed that he experiences difficulties walking with crutches and that while he is able to bear weight on his right leg, the imbalanced distribution of his weight placed a strain on the rest of his body that causes him to experience pain and discomfort throughout his right side. He contended that as a result, he would require a permanent prosthetic device for his left leg and that the device would need to be replaced a number of times. He also contended that he would require supplemental medical care to effectively integrate the prosthetic device into his daily life. The plaintiff’s expert life care planner opined that in order to ambulate independently, McCoy would require a new prosthetic device every three-to-five years for the rest of his life. The expert also opined that McCoy would require future conservative medical treatment and physical therapy once he receives a temporary and, ultimately, a permanent prosthetic device for his lower, left leg. He further opined that McCoy would benefit from hiring home health aides to assist him with the activities of daily living, and projected that McCoy’s future medical expenses would total more than $4.5 million over the course of his lifetime. Defense counsel for Caltrans did not dispute the cause or nature of McCoy’s injuries, but contested the cost of McCoy’s alleged future medical care. The defense’s expert life care planner opined that McCoy’s prosthetic would need to be replaced every five-to-six years and that that the cost of McCoy’s future medical expenses would be less than $4 million. RESULT The jury found that Caltrans was 80 percent liable for the accident and that McCoy was 20 percent liable. It also determined that McCoy’s damages totaled $22,618,040.73. After liability is apportioned to reflect the jury’s finding of comparative/contributory negligence, McCoy should recover $18,094,432.58. The judgement on the special verdict stipulated that seven percent interest on the judgment would begin to accrue 180 days after the date of the judgment was entered until the verdict was paid.

DEMAND: 7.5 million

OFFER: 5 million

$53,000.00 past lost earnings.

$4,614,754 future medical expenses and life care needs.

$700,000 future loss of income and earning capacity.

$15,000,000 past non-economic loss, including past pain and mental suffering.

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